The Future of Social Learning

Posted on July 30th 2013

The Future of Social Learning

ImageFor the past decade there has been a constant shift from traditional sources of information such as printed newspapers, journals and textbooks to more personal and interactive inbound knowledge consumption. What I mean by inbound knowledge consumption is that we now expect knowledge and information to find us instead of us finding it.

I have never been a fan of textbooks and tended to avoid them even when I was still studying business in university. I have always seen them as a sort of history books with hand-picked and, at least partially, outdated knowledge instead of real, authentic information that reflects the current situation and challenges. On the other hand, I do understand and believe that they give a good context and general understanding of the underlying principles and concepts that better allow for knowledge to be consumed.

Since my teen years I have chosen to instead consume short articles written by experts in their respective industries to get many different angles that allow me to understand both sides of the stories. Social media has made this easy as discovery has become very simple thanks to the likes of Twitter and LinkedIn’s updates and “LinkedIn today” service. By following the areas I am interested in I can now reasonably expect the content to find me instead of having to search for it. Most of the time, I would not even know what to search for as the most interesting articles are not on the top of my mind at the time of discovery.

What I have found is that most of the smartest and most insightful people in business usually do not have the time or interest to write textbooks but do share their knowledge with blog posts, status updates or similar forms of communication. A good example would be Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, who regularly shares insights via short articles and publishes them on LinkedIn. These sort of posts give an authentic picture of the challenges faced by business leaders today and how they have overcome them. Most of what I do today, as CEO of Smarp, I tie to the principles found in these articles and try to incorporate the knowledge of more experienced people for the benefit of our business.

People are lazy which makes them surprisingly time efficient

There is a common saying in my native Finland that goes “don’t always go where the fence is the lowest” – meaning you should not always take the easiest or fastest route. Well, most people do and you should not blame them for it. These are the people who are already climbing the next fence!

This relates to knowledge consumption today as we like to consume short, to the point content that does not waste our time with irrelevant information but instead gives us what we need so we can move on to the next article. Some may say that this does not allow for enough “depth” but I would argue that reading 5 short pieces by different authors on one subject is more “depth” (and perspective), than reading one in-depth analysis by a single author where you only get one person’s view.

What this means for organizations and educational institutions?

For organizations to keep up they need to make sure their employees know how to consume knowledge effectively via the new channels available to them. This starts with training on the use of social media in business that will lead to them having easy access to this type of knowledge and increase the overall understanding of the environment the organization operates in. This can then be transformed into a competitive advantage if the organization is also implementing ways for employees to leverage this new found knowledge in their work. This is one of the key advantages of becoming a social business.

For universities and other educational institutions it is important that, in addition to traditional methods of gathering knowledge, they train their students on how to find, share and consume through the new social channels. This will give students a better perspective on the current situation and challenges faced thus making them more prepared for working life.

In addition to just passively consuming knowledge, social media has allowed us to interact with others and add your own thoughts on top of what is already there. This increases the value of knowledge sharing as it is based on actual experiences and often yields opposing arguments, which in turn teach us to go beyond our own views and open our eyes to a more complete picture.

image: online learning/shutterstock

Roope Heinilä

Roope Heinilä

CEO, Smarp Oy

Roope Heinilä is a co-founder and CEO of Smarp which is a provider of Employee Advocacy Software-as-a-Service platform SmarpShare. Smarp's core business is helping businesses harness the combined power of their employees on social media allow our client organizations to leverage collective power of their employees and their networks for functions such as communications, sales, recruitment and employer branding.

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Comments

Jessica Barnes
Posted on August 2nd 2013 at 6:46AM

Great post Roope.  Here at BLOOM, we also explored Social Learning this week, specifically in the workplace.  With large brands embracing social, these platforms lend themselves very well to learning and collaboration.  Virgin, BT and Cisco are great examples of large brands applying this way of learning, with Cisco using gaming mechanics to engage.